Korean War Database
This article mostly focuses on the deeds of the Soviet pilots and their commanding officers. The initial version of the article did not attempt to recount all the victories and losses of U.N. or the United Air Army, but this latest version is very successful in doing just that.
The authors of the article would like to extend their deepest gratitude to Joe Brennan who in many abstracts validated and at some corrected the facts given.
To fully understand Korea in first place we must pick up things in the immediate post war Soviet Union.
The Pains of the Post-War V-VS and the Birth of the Soviet Jet Flight
24th April 1946 was a great day for Soviet Aviation. The MiG-9, the first domestic jet fighter, powered by two British-supplied jet engines, took-off and successfully completed its maiden flight. A. N. Grinchik piloted the MiG. Only few hours later M. I. Ivanov lifted the second jet fighter-the Yak-15 of the Zhukovsky tarmac. With this day the Soviet jet aviation was born.
The basic test flight programme was successfully completed - but not without accidents. One MiG-9 was lost killing test pilot "Lyosha" Grinchik. The aircraft and the pilot were quickly replaced and a new informal world record was set with the MiG-9 achieving 0.79M.
The first trio of Soviet jet fighters compromising of the MiG-9, Yak-15 and the La-150 were ready soon after. The concept of jet flight was then accepted into the VVS (1). Yet, there was a certain measure of secrecy around the testing of these examples and the subsequent pre-production series of the type, which resulted in some horrific rumours about the history of jet flight in the V-VS. This was broken only with an article in the V-VS bulletin titled "The particularities of jet pilotage", in which the author - Mark Gallay - soothed the fighter community with the assurance that there is really no great effort needed to master the first generation of Soviet jets.
Nevertheless, these very first generation jets were rather experiments then true fighting machines. As test-pilot Stepan A. Mikoyan explained:
"To start the engine of those early jets, the mechanic would first pull the cord (like in an ordinary motorboat) of the small auxiliary engine, which acted as a starter for the main power plant. The service life of those engines did not exceed twenty-five hours before overhaul. Their fuel consumption was much larger then that of the piston engines, while the fuel tank capacity of these jets, particularly the Yaks, was not so large. To prolong the engine’s service life and to save on fuel we would glide down the final with engine shut out (something hard to believe today) – we would cut it off on the final when sure that the aircraft would touch down at or close to the landing ‘T’. After that there was no way back; another circle was out of the question. In the MiG, which had two engines, one of them was shut down even earlier, on the base leg. At the end of the landing run we would turn off the runway to where a towing truck was waiting to take the aircraft back to the departure end of the strip, where the engine would be restarted for another flight. Another peculiarity of the MiG-9 was its tendency to ‘rear’ if you abruptly released the brakes at maximum power at take-off (because the jetwash that ran under the fuselage rarefied the air under the tail). To avoid its sinking on its tail, the brakes had to be released gradually."
Soon after the then student of Frunze Academy, otherwise a triple "Hero of the Soviet Union" and the second ranking allied ace, Aleksandr I. Pokryshkin, visited the jet flight test unit as well. The chief test pilot for the MiG-9 Mark Gallay was his guide around the new aircraft:
"He carefully examined the exterior of the MiG-9, then he climbed into the cockpit and sat there for a long time. Then he started asking me questions very slowly. I wasn’t able to answer many of them from the top of my head. The purely technical aspects of jet flight had occupied me in such an extent that I didn’t even start contemplating the tactical and tactical-exploitative aspects. Time will come when we will have to deal with them too"
And this time indeed came, but unfortunately the resulting problems were not optimally resolved. In fact, there was another more important leap that the West enjoyed over the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics commonly referred to as the SSSR. While the Soviet scientist and engineers could base their aircraft on captured Jumo or British-delivered Nene turbines, the license for which was won over a snooker game, they couldn’t exploit the greatest asset of the now dead Luftwaffe; namely tactical expertise. Among the group of pilots and leaders that survived probably the greatest war in the air there was a distinct aptitude towards the West. When confronted by an intelligence officer the following statement by Generalleutnant Galland is the epitome of this very reasonable inclination:
"I am of the opinion that Germany has lost the war but the future of all Europe lies in the hands of the Allies. I have no place to go and no desire to go anywhere. I will be at your wishes at all times."
Instead of using them for training and studies about the air combat doctrine, the few German pilots who weren't able to reach the western front to surrender there and were instead captured by the Soviets, were submitted to bogus trials that included charges for killing non-combatants with stray bullets from their fighter aircraft and were all found guilty. With the prospect of a decade in labor camps ran by NKVD2 forces the V-VS could not profit at all from their knowledge and experience.
Yet, in the post-WWII USSR training wasn’t a priority for the V-VS. There was a distinctive lack of training sorties in the Soviet operational regiments and the pilots were mostly "ironing air" with constant patrols along the vast borders. Many of the veterans and other younger instinctive fighter pilots opted for the task of working as instructors where there was enough flying time to keep them in trim.
The transition from piston to jet engine aircraft also took its toll in operational readiness of the V-VS. The Soviet Aircraft industry was then struggling to replace the aircraft of the Great Patriotic War (3) with their redesigned counterparts. The aircraft built in wartime had very low lifetime expectancy and many of their parts were built of cheap and readily available materials - like wood. The all-metal Il-10 replaced the wooden Il-2, the same thing happened with the La-7 being replaced by the La-9. Soviet Strategic aviation made a huge leap forward with the fleet of carbon copied B-29s named the Tu-4. However, even the prides of the Soviet aircraft industry, the MiG-9 and the Yak-15 were both only stop-gaps anticipating a new and true jet propelled fighter that could climb higher then 10.000m and could stay in the air for at least an hour. This fighter resulted from the competition by Yakovlyev, Lavochkin and MiG OKB, and its prototype - designated MiG-15 - flew for the first time on December 30, 1947.
In the West a myth was born that the MiG-15 was built from the plans of the Ta-183. While it is true that some preliminary sketches were inspired by that design the credit for the success of the aircraft goes only to the MiG OKB. Namely the Ta-183 was indeed further developed by Kurt Tank into Pulqui II, but that aircraft - built in Argentina in the 1950s - turned out to be nothing special and was by far inferior to the MiG-15.
In those years the Air Force Academies across the Soviet Union had a unique group of students sitting in their classrooms, since the vast majority of most successful Soviet pilot attended various courses. The three most successful aces - I. N. Kozedub, which finished the Air Force Academy in 1948; Pokryshkin, that finished the Frunze Academy in 1948, and Rechkalov, which also was at the Air Force academy in 1951 - were all sent for advanced command training courses. While these academies were of the chalk and blackboard variety, experience was not lacking since the students had themselves survived as many as one hundred and fifty aerial combats and were not considered as "yes" men. Moreover during the bitter battles of the Eastern Front the higher-ranking V-VS officers didn’t put too much effort in subscribing the tactics that were to be used: each fighter pilot that had his own ideas about aerial warfare was welcome to try them out. Whatever eventually worked was allowed as Aleksandr I. Pokryshkin remarked:
"Innovations, for instance new forms of attack, almost invariably encountered obstacles one way or the other. The air division commanders much too often demanded strict observance of service regulations, which were also prescribing forms of attack. Veteran pilots thus were unable to convey their combat experience to the beginners. This, however, did not prevent them from utilizing their personal formula in air combat!"
Therefore at the end of the WWII the V-VS had almost diametrically different fighter pilots within its rank. When these pilots meet in the academies their views were analysed and a unified tactics manual was finally issued.
Such a surprising evolution persuaded even the old-hands: for example, Grigorij A. Rechkalov, the exceptionally talented third-best Allied ace (often compared with Hans Joachim Marseille of the "Star of Africa" fame) scored most of his victories on his trusty and fiercely agile lend-lease P-39 Aircobra during the bitter fighting above Kuban river. He was a solitary fighter with almost no regard for mutual support or any kind of section tactics. But his mastery of his aircraft and the incredible deflection angles at which he could clinically bring down his opponent made him a deadly opponent - unfortunately many times also for the formation he was leading. The pilots that flew with him were not as good as and were usually not able to follow Rechkalov: instead they were often paying the ultimate price. For this at one time he came into a conflict with the founder of modern day Soviet fighter tactics, incidentally the second scoring ace of the war- "Sasha" Pokryshkin. It was only few years later that even Rechkalov recognised the "lone-wolf" days are over in air combat. When he was asked what did he think new types of aircraft should posses in terms of agility, climbing performance, speed or ceiling he simply replied: "Above all they should have a good, reliable radio".
In air combat the "para" or the pair was accepted as the basic formation while two "paras" made up a "zveno". Pokryshkin’s "vysota-skorost-manevr-ogon" 4 rule was made sacred.
With the end of the WWII the doors of the academies were wide opened. Despite many failures of the Stalinistic regime, Soviet war heroes were treated far better then their counterparts in Europe and America. As the 41 kill ace Vitalij I. Popkov remembers:
"In many respects our postwar fates were probably similar. Most combat pilots remained in the ranks. They became familiar with new technologies and studied at military academies. For us, simple youths from families of modest means, a broad road into the future opened itself."
The Shanghai Graduation
Transforming the VVS from piston to jet force, unifying the training and maintaining combat readiness along the borders that stretched literary from Port Arthur to Berlin was by no means a small task. Especially as hardly few years after the end of the WWII - and while still in the middle of the badly needed reorganizations - the V-VS fighter units were to become involved in the fighting in China.
During the negotiations between Moscow and the new, communist, regime in Beijing, a decision was reached to send a group of Soviet advisors to first provide air defence of Shanghai protecting it from the raids flown by Nationalist Air Force, and then help develop an air defense system - including interceptor units - of the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). The other part of these negotiations was to send a group of Soviet naval officers to raise a modern Chinese Navy and to make all the necessary strategic and operational planning for the invasion of this island Formosa, nowadays known as Taiwan.
These Soviets "advisors" were actually complete combat formations deployed directly from the ranks of the newly formed PVO (5) forces. The cores of the two divisions sent were three aviation regiments. One was equipped with MiG-15 and assigned for bomber interception, the second equipped with La-11 fighters for night fighting and the last one was the mixed ground attack regiment with Tu-2s and Il-10s.
Since the loss- and kill-claims for the Kuomintang forces for that period are unavailable we can only submit the Soviet advisors kill tally, which finals at no losses in combat, admitting one Tu-2 was lost to friendly fire (5) while a MiG-15 and a La-11 were lost in accidents. The La-11 scored two B-25s and shot down another pair of Mustangs. The first victory for the MiG-15 came when Kapitan Kalinikov shot down a Chinese Nationalist P-38 Lightning on the 28th April 1950. Another Liberator fell to the MiG’s cannon in the night of 11/12 May, this time the victorious pilot was Kapitan Schinkarenko who was awarded the "Order of Lenin" for his feat.
|Row of some of the first MiG-15s of the 64. OIAK, seen shortly after arrival in China. (via Tom Cooper)|
Apart from seriously hampering the Kuomintang operations the Soviet personnel logged close to 2600 hours spent in training the members of the Chinese Air Defence members.
At the beginning of August 1950 the Soviet advisors started to decrease their role in Shanghai’s defence. Everything that the Soviets brought with them including the first model MiG-15 with red and white-stripped rudder was transferred into the Chinese PLA ranks on 19th October 1950. This ended the active participation of the Soviet airmen in the Chinese civil war. For detailed information regarding the beginning of the conflict we now know as China versus Taiwan see the appropriate section here. But we are back in the summer of 1950.
The "Strictly" North Korean Air Force
On June 25 1950, as a lone American C-54 cargo plane was set on fire at Seoul international airport by several strafing Yak-9s, the Army of the People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) crossed the 38th Parallel and entered the territory of the Republic of Korea (South Korea) in an attempt to unify the Korean peninsula under one rule. With the initial stamped over the weak South Korean resistance the Korean War had begun.
Initially it seemed that the North Korean forces would obtain a rapid victory due to its evident superiority in men, armored vehicles and the sheer quantity of firepower. Such superiority also extended to the aerial element of warfare.
According to US intelligence, at that time the North had 132 combat aircraft, 70 of them were the Yakovlev Yak-9P, which enjoyed immense popularity with the pilots in the Great patriotic war. Quite interestingly they were noted as heavy fighters most probably in the comparison to the earlier wooden Yaks. Of course the term heavy fighter would fade when pitted against the P-47 Thunderbolt or Hawker Tempest.
The remaining 62 airframes were the Ilyushin Il-10 and Lavockin La-9. Again metalizing and somewhat improving their wooden ancestors, the Il-2M3 and the La-7, derived these two aircraft.
While the fact is that the late fifties were already deep jet age and on paper these types were obsolete, but still they had no trouble gaining air superiority over the South Koreans. The South Korean arsenal consisted of 3 unarmed T-6 Texan trainers and 13 liaison aircraft. That is a total of sixteen aircraft none of which were combat ready.
However it had soon become clear that the North Korean Air Force (NKAF) would face a very different enemy. During an U.N. council it was decided that the U.N. forces would intervene in the Korean peninsula.
The United States FEAF (Far East Air Force) was composed of the 5th, 13th and 20th Air Forces, which were based in Japan, Philippines and Okinawa respectively. The World War Two veteran of the China-India-Burma theatre Lt. Gen. George A. Stratemeyer commanded the whole FEAF. The 5th AF commanded by Maj. Gen. Earle E. Partridge received the responsibility of taking on the NKAF in an effort to help the South Korean war effort.
The FEAF as a whole had more then enough assets to accomplish the mission at hand. 1172 aircraft, almost half of which were the jet F-80 Shooting Stars, while the other aircraft were 47 F-51s, 42 F-82s, 73 B-26s, 27 B-29s, 179 transports, 48 reconnaissance aircraft, and 252 miscellaneous types (T-6, SB-17, T-33, etc.). However, of these 1,172 aircraft only 657 of the 5th AF were spoken for the use in Korea and moreover not all of these were combat types and the FEAF at large was geared for air defense of Japan, Okinawa and Philippines and far from optimally prepared both in technology and in doctrine to provide valuable ground support.
DPRKAF Counter-Air Offensive and a High Noon at Kimpo
The opening round of the DPRKAF against the USAF battle was fought over the airfields of Suwon and Kimpo where the USAF Mustangs, Twin Mustangs and Shooting Stars were flying defensive patrols against the North Korean strafers. Initially the DPRKAF piston driven fighters showed very aggressive flying and on 25th of June 1950 two Yaks engaged the Twin Mustang patrol over Kimpo. This combat ended with a draw, but the tone had been set.
The first decisive clash of the 5th AF fighters and the DPRKAF planes took place just two days later when eleven Twin Mustangs of the 4th, 68th and 339th FIS and a high cover of 8th FBW Shooting Stars were covering the evacuation of Kimpo airbase. Suddenly the F-82G piloted by 1st Lt. Charles Moran was bounced by a group of Yak-9s. The Yaks didn’t profit much from the bounce only damaging Moran’s Twin Mustang they were immediately engaged by a Twin Mustang crewed by 1st Lt. William Hudson with 1st Lt. Carl Fraser as the radar operator. Despite the use of the clouds by the DPRKAF fighter the first USAF victory in Korea had been recorded. The Twin Mustangs piloted by Charles Moran and Major James W. Little also claimed one Yak each.
|The first "MiG-kill" of the war was scored by the F-82E "46-401", flown by Lt. William Hudson and Lt. Carl Fraser against this DPRKAF Yak, on 27 June 1950, near Kimpo.|
Despite losing three fighters for a shot up tail the DPRKAF later that same day sent eight Ilyushin Il-10s, which attacked Kimpo airfield and destroyed seven South Korean aircraft on the ground. When heading back north they were intercepted by a four-ship formation of F-80C of 35th FBS, 8th FBW. The Shooting Star pilots claimed four destroyed Il-10s two of which by 1st Lt. Robert E. Wayne. Despite these losses to the American fighters the North Koreans were not about to stop their offensive against the airfields in the south. During the same day one C-54 was damaged in the air, but was turned around and flown to Japan successfully.
The strikes against Suwon on June 28th were most successful. During the first effort two pairs of Yak-9s destroyed a Twin Mustang and a B-26 in a strafing run. Three pairs of Yak-9Ps revisited Suwon the same day possibly destroying one or C-54s.
Yet a third strafing trip to Suwon the next day proved largely unsuccessful since a mixed formation of Yaks, Lavockins and Iljushins were intercepted by several F-51D Mustangs of the 35th, 36th and Shooting Stars of the 80th FBS whish gave them a 'hot' welcome: three Il-10s, one La-9 and two Yak-9s were claimed as shot down by the USAF pilots. A few days later on 3rd July US Navy opened its score in Korea when two F9F Panther pilots of VF-51 claimed a Yak kill each.
Another C-54 loss on 30th was lost to strafing Yaks with what seems to be immense personnel loss.
|During air combats over Kimpo, on 27 and 28 June 1950, several DPRKAF fighters were shot down almost directly over the airfield they were attacking - including this Il-10. (USAF) |
During the same day strafing attacks were directed against the HMS Black Swan and two ROK vessels while four Yaks dropped anti-personnel bombs on ROK troops south of Kimpo, killing 68 ROK soldiers. On 4 July aircraft knocked out a communications repeater station near Osan. Four planes also strafed and bombed Chonju on 11 July. Despite the losses inflicted on the DPRKAF and hampering their airfield offensive to some extent the South Koreans were losing the ground war. Seoul fell and the North Korean offensive seemed unstoppable. Since July USAF and USN fighters and fighter-bombers began a series of ground attacks on North Korean troops and materiel to stem the tide from the north. And still on July 20 Taejon fell but by early August the first signs of the losses inflicted by the US ground support efforts of the US were evident. The North Koreans were finally stopped in the ''Pusan Perimeter'' in the battle of Naktong, where close air support had a very important role in the final outcome, which halted the North Koreans on the brink of complete victory. Probably the best fighter leader of all times, the 38 kill Spitfire ace Group Captain J. E. Johnson was at that time doing another spell of active duty with the FEAF and gives a fair account of those days:
"At the beginning of the Korean War the Far East Air Forces were in poor shape to stop the enemy’s advance, because for years its main responsibility was had been the air defence of Japan, and there was little know-how, material and communications for air-ground operations.
Fortunately for the Americans the few obsolete Yak fighters of the North Korean Air Force were poorly flown and were soon driven from the sky by far superior F-80s Shooting Stars, who then tried to help the U.S. 24th Division, which had moved to Korea from Japan.
During these highly critical days when the North Koreans advanced south with the intention of driving the Americans into the sea, two Shooting Stars were sent from airfields in Japan every fifteen minutes, but their long flight meant they could spend only a short time over the battlefield. Sometimes they landed at one of the few airfields remaining to the Americans, but the best of these Taegu, had to be evacuated twice because of the nearby enemy troops. Fighter pilots were rarely briefed over the battlefield because of the air-ground communications, and even when the tactical reconnaissance pilots reported important targets, the ground situation often changed before the information filtered to the fighter squadrons. Consequently little could be done from the air to stop the Communists, and the 24th Division, together with some South Korean troops, found themselves driven toward the bottom of the peninsula, where they set up a defensive perimeter based on the port of Pusan. But they were still in grave danger of being pushed into the sea.
By this time, however, the Americans had formed and elementary joint-operations centre, consisting of some communications and radio-equipped jeeps called tactical air-control parties, the equivalent of our5 contact cars. These jeeps patrolled the perimeter calling down fighter-bombers flying from Korean and Japan, but the high mountains gravely reduced the range of radio sets, and so the Americans filled this dangerous gaps with light aeroplanes, called 'Mosquitoes' whose pilots would talk both to the operations centre and the fighter bombers. These 'Mosquito' crews did a great job searching for and finding the enemy, and co-pilots often helped the circling fighter-bombers by throwing smoke grenades from the rear cockpit. Sometimes when fighter-bombers were absent they took the matters into their own hands and, in the fashion of the old timers, hurled hand grenades at the enemy-sometimes with fatal consequences to themselves. Later the U.S. Army commander told me that without the fighter-bombers his men would have been driven into the sea. But the situation was still highly dangerous, so dangerous that strategic bombers had to take part in the land battle."
The B-29s Go North
Twenty-two B-29s of the 19th Bomber Wing belonging the FEAF 20th AF stationed at Anderson Field on Guam moved to Kadena AFB in Okinawa and begun participating in tactical attacks against advancing North Korean troops on 29th June 1950. As Group Captain J. E. Johnson notes:
"The first the controller in the operations centre knew of this was when the bomber leader asked for target information; the controller, thinking they were fighter-bombers, asked for details of their armament and was amazed to hear that each aeroplane was carrying forty-eight bombs."
The 19th Bomber Wing was the only B-29 wing not included in the Strategic Air Command and therefore it was under the direct command of an Army staff group in the General Headquarters. Being the black sheep in the bomber wings also meant it had limited radar and no high altitude capability.
On July 8 a special FEAF Bomber Command was set up in Yokota under the command of Major General Emmett "Rossie" O'Donnell, the famed pacific B-17 pilot and the bomber leader who was at the head of the B-29 force on the first strike to Tokyo. Five days later FEAF Bomber Command was reinforced with the 22nd and 92nd BWs, which had been transferred from their SAC bases in the USA. The day before the 19th Wing suffered one of the few losses that occurred in those first stages of the war. B-29A BuNo 44-69866 was downed by a North Korean Yak-9P near Seul, while another two shot down an L-4 'Mosquito' and a third formation attacked a formation of F-80’s near Chochiwon. On 15 July two Yaks attacked four B-26s damaging one so badly that it had to land at Taejon.
|A B-29 Superfortress delivering its cargo on a marshalling yard. (USAF, via authors)|
Most of the early B-29 attacks were against tactical targets such as tank, troop and soft skinned vehicle concentrations and supply dumps. There was little flak or air opposition but the raids were not very effective since the strategic bomber was not well suited for the tactical role and also due to inaccurate maps showing rail and road lines not built yet.
With the results obtained and the pressure from O’Donell to unleash his forces on the targets behind the battlefield the agreement was reached where two wings would attack communication lines behind the battlefield while one would still provide close support. On 4th August approval was given for B-29 attacks against strategic targets in North Korea the only snag being that the three units that were within the FEAF Bomber Command were already overwhelmed and simply couldn’t mount a separate effort against targets of strategic value. Later in that same month two more bomber wings, the 98th and 307th were also sent to Japan to join the FEAF to remedy the material deficiency in the strategic bombardment effort while the 31st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron completed the FEAF bomber command. Namely while the 22nd and 92nd Bomber Wings were attacking a series of road and rail targets plus an occasional Nitrogen Explosive or Chemical plant planes were being drafted for a comprehensive strategic offensive. As Major Emmet O’ Donnell later remarked:
"It was my intention and hope that we would be able to got out there and to cash in on our psychological advantage in having gotten into the theater and into the war so fast, by putting a very severe blow on the North Koreans, with an advanced warning, perhaps, telling them that they had gone too far in what we all recognized as being a case of aggression ... and go to work burning five major cities in North Korea to the ground, and to destroy every one of about 18 major strategic targets.... Tell them to either stop the aggression and get back over the thirty-eighth parallel or they had better have their wives and children and bedrolls to go down with them because there is not going to be anything left up in Korea to return to."
But this was not as easy as planned. Namely the prewar FEAF Intelligence had prepared some 900 target folders within its area of interest, a region loosely defined as "within 1.000 miles of Tokyo". Again the snag was that these folders were primarily for the targets in the Soviet Siberia and not the Korean peninsula. This was remedied by the efforts of the Strategic Reconnaissance Squadrons in theatre providing both radarscope and ordinary photographs of the earmarked targets. While there were some difficulties with heavy steel bridges the road and rail communications in the area between the now stabilizing Pusan perimeter and the 38th parallel were destroyed. By the end of August, thirty-seven of the forty-four bridges targeted had been destroyed with the remaining seven being so badly damaged that they were unusable and all attention was now fixed towards the targets of strategic value. By early September, all known industrial facilities in North Korea had been destroyed except for some oil storage facilities at Rashin, which were considered too close to the Soviet border to risk an attack. By mid September the Pusan perimeter was definitely stable and MacArthur begun planning the Inchon landing. With such lack of trade the B-29 force was engaged in the futile carpet-bombing of the Naktong area. In the middle of October the 22nd and 92nd Bomber Wings returned to the continental USA
The UN Pushes North
On 15th September 1950 the successful landing in Inchon took place, and as McArthur expected, this assault in the already week rear area broke North Korean back. After a bitter infantry battle in the streets of Seoul in which the USN F4Us, F9Fs and AD-4s played an valuable role, the Marines conquered it, as the 8th Army broke the North Koreans lines in the Pusan perimeter and began to move north, towards Seoul. After that the North Koreans began a withdrawal in complete disorder. The USMC and the US Army crossed the 38th Parallel on the 7th of October, a week after the South Koreans, and occupied Pyongyang.
By that time USAF intelligence believed all but twenty-two out of one hundred and thirty original DPRKAF aircraft had been destroyed, either in the air or in the ground, and the U.N. air forces enjoyed total air superiority. But at the same time that the U.N. troops got closer to the shore of the Yalu which is a natural boundary between North Korea and China. There were some resulting incidents where US planes attacked Chinese and Soviet airbases apparently by mistake: on September 22 an B-29 raid against Sinuiju actually bombed the marshalling yards of Antung which is north of Yalu…in China. On October 8 1950 four F-80s of 49th FBW attacked a Soviet airfield near to Vladivostok because they made a navigational mistake and thought that they were attacking Chongjin airfield. Historians speculate that these attacks convinced Mao-Tse-Tung and Josif Stalin two men already not pleased seeing a Communist nation at the brink of a complete downfall in American hands of the fact that the UN would not stop on the shores of the Yalu so they decided to intervene in the war. Despite the presence of Chinese soldiers in North Korean soil already since October US intelligence analysts thought and hoped that China nor the SSSR would intervene in the war. What actually happened later proved how wrong they were.
Selection of Volunteers
The Soviet pilots and technicians that were already in China relocated from Shanghai to northeast China. The crack jet regiment: 29th GvIAP formed the core of the unit, which would become and later gain fame in the sky of Northern Korea - the 64th Fighter Aviation Corps (64th IAK). As it seems some pilots from the Night Fighting 351st IAP decided to stay on. Such is the case with Senior Lieutenant Karelin who would later emerge as the top scoring jet night fighter pilot with six victories to his credit.
Back in the Motherland the fall preceded a cold and snowy winter and the orders for the deployment of certain units made up from Soviet pilots were already being drafted. The newspapers showed vivid images of the horror suffered by their North Korean comrades. In the Soviet Union O’Donnell’s strategy of bombing the North Korean nation in submission raised defiance reminiscent of the British during the worst days of the Battle of Britain. There also seems to have been a special campaign among the ranks of the VVS, which portrayed the effects of the incendiary carrying FEAF Bomber Command’s B-29s on the North Korean cities. The comparison with Hamburg was often recalled. There were rumours that there are some 3500 bombers thrown against the helpless North Korea. Of course there was immediately a huge numbers of volunteers for the "government sponsored trip". Interestingly enough a very small number of fighter pilots that participated in World War Two clung on to units that still flew piston engine machinery. The theory was that if you learn to fly jets they would send you to Korea for them five years of combat was enough. The volunteers for Korea had to be younger then 27 years and priority was given to the veterans of the Great Patriotic War. Nevertheless the option of choice was never given to the ground crew members. They were ordered to go.
The aircraft and the supporting crew were sent to China by the Trans-Siberian railway in one train and the pilots in another. Of course all of them were dressed up in civilian clothes. Unfortunately there was a distinctive lack of different sets of clothes and Soviet personnel were easily recognised by the leather jacket sporting a sailor stripped shirt underneath. The MiG-15s were also submitted to de-Sovietisation. The Krasnaya Zvezda insignias and Cyrillic maintenance stencils were removed.
The carnival arrived in a very cold and windy Port Arthur in October 1950. With the border crossing the pilots changed trains. For the rest of the trip they would travel in an ex-Japanese train. The pilots were also given an extraordinary treat for that time-a sausage and white bread as a welcome gift.
In Manchuria the newly arrived pilots and the Shanghai veterans meet on a former Japanese fighter strip Mukden7. After the aircraft arrived by rail the regiments started intensive training in elements that they haven’t practiced for years: air combat manoeuvring and aerial gunnery.
Mission & ROE-restrtictions
Long before the volunteers left the Soviet soil their mission was determined as follows:
- To protect political-administrative and economic centres from air strikes and American aerial reconnaissance, as well as
- industrial objects, railroad junctions, bridges, force concentrations, and other important objects in the areas of Mukden, An-tung, Tsian, Dungfeng, and
- pay close attention to covering the bridges over the Yalu River and electrical power stations in the Antung area.
At the time the newly arrived Soviet pilots made up the 151st and 28th Air Divisions with two regiments each. After the units were deemed operationally ready there were redeployed on their assigned air bases, which were chosen as the "best suited" for jet operations and were most appropriate for the defined mission. The headquarters were set up at Mukden and the Anshan and An-tung.
USAF complained about the lack and the overall bad state in which the airfields were in Korea, the Soviet corps found this even worse since they operated practically from the former Japanese fighter strips. One mayor drawback in operations was the long time it took to scramble substantial numbers of fighters. A bright exception to this was An-tung since the runway there was wide and long enough for jet operations. Here take-offs were made in pairs, but the landings were performed in single file with 1000-1500m between the aircraft with one landing on the right side of the runway, the second on the left and so on. But the unsuitability of runways for mass jet operations coupled with the late radar picture due to the mountains sometimes prevented Soviet pilots from gathering the altitude or quantity needed for air combat. During the daylight hours an alert force of MiGs was maintained with pilots strapped in the aircraft positioned near the runway. The radar or the radio-locator as the Soviet pilots knew it then was the P-3 type. At all times the Soviet Korpus in Korea also had two AAA divisions armed with 85 and 57mm guns in its strength. All of the gathered information about the enemy activities was then forwarded to the "komandni punkt" or the command point simply known as the KP, which was at the airfield. In this KP usually the Division commander and a few pilots who weren’t flying that day processed the obtained information and forwarded tactical instructions to the pilots in the air.
But bad logistics on certain airfields was not the only obstacle. Stalin was very concerned because of the consequences that would follow if the U.N. would realize the Soviet involvement in the Korean conflict. Therefore the Soviet corps went to great lengths to assure the clandestine around the Soviet pilots…at their cost.
Apart from the measures during transport that we had mentioned before the Soviet pilots wore Chinese uniforms and were given Chinese nicknames. Due to the fear they would be captured they weren’t allowed to cross an imaginary line drawn from Wosan to Pyonyang, and never to fly over sea. Perhaps the greatest stupidity came in the form of an order saying that the Soviet pilots must communicate in North Korean over the radio during flights. That in practice meant that the pilot attached a table of phrases on his left arm and another table of the appropriate answers on his right arm. This was not resolved till the arrival of Kozedub’s regiment that will be described later. Soon they started flying operational mission. On 14th October Chinese ground troops started crossing the Yalu. The prays and the hopes of the U.N. Generals went by unheard.
"Firsts" and the Question of Air Superiority
On the first day of November 1950 two F-51 pilots reported that several unknown jet aircraft, which appeared from beyond the Chinese border, had performed a shy firing pass and as fast as they appeared they returned to China. However, the great speed of the jet aircraft caused considerable surprise among the FEAF high commanders who realized that something never seen before had appeared over the Korean skies. That day five MiG-15s of the 72nd GvIAP, 151st IAD found a formation of ten F-80s above them at 4.500m Starshij Lejtenant Khominich performed a left climbing turn and fired against one of the F-80Cs shooting it down with that claiming the first jet-versus-jet air victory in history. The remaining F-80 formation was scattered by similar attacks by the Soviet flight leader Major Bordun and his wingman Starshij Lejtenant Sukhov. As far as the confirmation of the first jet-versus-jet kill goes the USAF admits the loss of one F-80C of 16th FIS with the pilot F. Van Sickle missing in action on that day but credits this loss to the North Korean flak, which according to the American version shot down the jet during a raid against Sinuiju airfield. The Sinuiju airfield raid was planned after a reconnaissance mission by an RF-80 revealled NKAP Yaks present at this location. The resulting strike mission with F-80Cs took off around noon (eleven o’clock Soviet time). The first of the Soviet claims is marked with the kill time of 14.20 (13.20 Soviet time) and in that light the F-80C mission against the Sinuiju is very unlikely to had come in contact with the Soviet MiGs.
To counter the Chinese volunteers General MacArthur ordered two weeks of a maximum effort bombing campaign focusing on the immediate vicinity of the southern bank of the Yalu. As once in history Barabas created a wasteland of what had used to been the coast and the immediate vicinity of Yaffa just to deny the invading European armies a foothold MacArthur did the same with on the southern bank of Yalu. Everything that might provide shelter and be used as communication lines by the Chinese volunteers was torn down.
The following days saw inconclusive encounters between US fighters and Soviet MiGs; on November 7 two F-51 pilots claimed to have shot down a MiG each and so did the F-80C pilot 1st Lt. Russell Brown of the 16th FIS on 8th November. This claim had been considered the first jet-versus-jet kill for more than forty years. But none of those shot downs really happened as no Soviet MiGs were lost during those days. On that day 1st Lt. Brown bounced a MiG-15 of the 72nd GvIAP piloted by Starshij Lejtenant Kharitonov who still had the external fuel tanks on. Kharitonov entered a steep dive and punched off the fuel tanks trying to avoid Russell’s bullets, who interpreted the dive as an uncontrolled fall and the explosion of the fuel tanks on the ground was misidentified as a MiG crashing. The first MiG kill only happened the next day when several F9F Panthers of VF-111 were escorting AD-4s and F4U Corsairs, which were attacking the Yalu bridges. Lt. Cdr. William T. Amen surprised a MiG when those were trying to get the Skyraiders and Corsairs shooting it down with 20 mm fire.
His victim was Kapetan Grachev of 139th GvIAP, 151st IAD. But that same day two MiG-15s of 72nd GvIAP intercepted an RB-29A of the 31st SRS over Sinuiju, where the Soviet flight leader Major Bordun riddled the recce plane with 37 mm shells. The RB-29 BuNo 44-61813 almost reached Johnson AFB crashing during the final approach. Five crewmembers died in the crash. Bordun had scored the first victory in a MiG-15 that was fully admitted by US sources.
Battle by battle, the Soviet MiG-15 pilots rapidly gained air superiority over the southern shore of the Yalu. It became blatantly obvious that the MiG-15 could easily out-climb, out-dive and out-turn the F-80C thus in every element of air combat besting the type which was tasked for securing air superiority over the Korean peninsula. Moreover the fact that worried the FEAF commanders the most is that the B-29 formations didn’t have the self-escort capability based on sheer firepower as over Japan during World War Two. The 37 and 23mm cannons of the MiG-15 were devastators when used against the B-29s, because the range of these weapons was greater then the outside range of the 0,5 inch (12,7 mm) defensive machineguns of the Superfortress. In light of this conclusions the decision was made by Maj. Gen. Partridge to deploy the F-84E Thunderjets of 27th Fighter Escort Wing (FEW) and the F-86A Sabres of the 4th FIW to Korea.
In this winter the term "MiG" was born.
"On my reconnaissance and fighter-bomber mission I never saw a Mig" explains the Spitfire leader now turned B-26 pilot Group Captain J. E. Johnson: "but in the evenings, when the day’s work was over and we had showered, changed and supped well, the veterans got together and talked about the Migs. What bothered us most was not their high performance, but the people who flew them. Who were these chaps? They flew and fought too well to be North Koreans. So they had to be Chinese or Russian. And even if they were Russians they had come a long, long way in the last five years. For in their use of the sun, their finger-four patterns and their line astern defensive maneuvers they were strangely reminiscent of the Luftwaffe."
In the two weeks of the intensive FEAF aerial campaign the southern spans of the international North Korean-Chinese bridges over the Yalu were targeted. Not only were all of these of the heavy steel construction designed to withstand adverse natural elements and the bomber mission were constantly hampered by the cloudy weather that forecasted a cold winter, now there was the red swept winged factor to consider. On 10th November a formation of five MiG-15 belonging to the 67th IAP of the 28th IAD intercepted a B-29 formation belonging to the 307th Bomber Wing attacking Sinuiju and in the ensuing combat Starshij Lejtenant Kharpovsky blasted a B-29A BuNo 45-21814 of 371st BS out of the sky.
That same day other MiG-15 pilots of the same unit shot down two Mustangs which are both admitted by USAF, but one classified as an operational loss while the second is attributed to it’s own bomb blast. A probable third victim for the 67th IAP came the next day in the form of a F-80C but this time there was a prize to pay: Starshij Lejtenant Nasonov was downed by F-80C pilot Clyde Whaley of 16th FIS, 51st FIW.
Two B-29s of 372nd Bomber Squadron were severely damaged by MiG-15s on 14th November. Both of the sturdy bombers made it back to Kadena, Okinawa with one crash landing and being written off while the second was badly damaged.
In only two weeks the MiG-15s shot down or damaged beyond repair two F-80s, two F-51s, three B-29s and one RB-29; all that against only two MiG losses. Out of these claims the loss of three R/B-29 can be fully confirmed. FEAF combat aircraft simply disappeared for two weeks from above the southern shores of the Yalu river which was now known as "MiG Alley" among the US pilots.
Some strike missions were flown against the Yalu bridges by TF-77 till the 18th November but for a week these strikes went unengaged. On the 18th however both the VF-31 and VF-52 claimed one MiG each. The only loss in this clash was Starshij Lejtenant Arkady Tarshinov of the 139th GIAP. The Navy strikes continued till the 24th November when carrier operations ceased.
At the end of November the Soviet forces were reorganized. The 151st and 28th Air Divisions plus the veteran 50th Air Division were joined and renamed into the 64th IAK (Air Fighter Corps). In December elements of the 28th IAD were relocated to Chindao where they set up a course for the training of the future Chinese jet pilots. The 151st GvIAP was also involved in training therefore the burden of combat activities rested on the shoulder of the newly arrived 50th IAD compromising the 29th GvIAP and 177th IAP fighter regiments. These were the first units to operate the MiG-15bis in Korea. The basic model MiG-15 was powered by the copied Nene jet engine named the RD-45. The Soviet scientist then developed the Nene for operating at increased temperatures, which gave a slight thrust improvement. The experience gained with the Nene/RD-45 and BMW jet engines gave birth to the VK-1. With some 2700kg of thrust the engine offered a significant advantage of 600kg in thrust over the RD-45 series of engines. When the engine was fitted to the MiG-15 the aircraft was initially named the MiG-17, but later changed to the MiG-15bis. The MiG-17 became the 45 degrees swept back variant. The VK-1 series of engines enjoyed great success as it saw the use in the MiG-15bis, the true MiG-17 and the Il-28 medium bomber.
By the end of very cold November the waters of the wide Yalu were beginning to freeze over. Pontoon bridges were lay across the river to increase the somewhat diminished capacity of the damaged steel bridges. Unable to do anything about this the B-29 missions were halted on 5th of December. The B-29 formations will again appear over the Yalu come thaw.
These events in November in which the Soviet flown MiG-15s played a substantial part allowed the Chinese Army to launch a major ground offensive against the U.N. troops who were also ill prepared for winter warfare. Pyongyang was rapidly retaken on 3rd December by the Communist forces as the US 8th Army and the X Allied Corp, which included the 1st Marine Division, the US Army’s 7th Division and the ROKA’s Capital Division withdrew out of their positions in North Korea. With the ground troops on the defensive the FEAF initiated a program of cutting railway connections in the southern banks of Yalu in the hope of stemming the red tide.
The 50th IAD at the time encountered a serious design flaw of the MiG-15bis. During high speeds and loads regularly encountered in combat a weak element in the T tail of the MiG-15bis deformated or in two occasions even failed completely. Quickly a field "dorabotnaja" program was initiated in which the defective parts were replaced on all MiGs in Korea. Furthermore five vertical stabilizers and 15 vertical elevators were found deformed and therefore were replaced. This high speed irregularity was dubbed valezhka and might had been the reason for the utterly false urban legend that ascertained that a MiG-15bis will disintegrate at high speed.
But with the arrival of the newcomers nothing had changed in the "MiG" Alley. The MiG-15bis of the newcomer 50th IAD still tackled the bombers, fighter-bombers and reconnaissance platform that entered the area they were defending. 4th December 1950 was another crucial day for jet aviation. Four MiG-15s of the 29th GvIAP which was actually now partly assigned the training role performed the first successful interception of a jet bomber when they caught up with an RB-45 Tornado of the Recce Detachment "A" of 84th BS deep over Manchuria at 11:35 hrs9 70 km north of An-tung which is deep in China. After a few passes, the MiG-15 of Starshij Lejtenant Aleksandr F. Andrianov riddled the recce bomber till a fire erupted, the aircraft spun and crashed. This was one of only three RB-45C aircraft then in theatre. The reconnaissance versions powered by four uprated General Electric engines, reached a maximum speed of 570 mph and were armed with two 0,5 inch. M-7 machineguns in a tail turret. As the first USAF jet bomber this type delivered several atomic warheads in various tests and was also earmarked for this mission in the sectors where the enemy defenses were most dense. The shot down of the reconnaissance version of the bomber, which was even faster, told a vivid tale of how these missions would fare. Only Capt. Charles McDonough of the unfortunate crew could bail out and became POW. He later perished in captivity. Col. John R. Lovell, a Pentagon intelligence officer who perished in the crash remained the highest-ranking intelligence officer lost in the war.
That same day at 13:18 four MiG-15s of the same unit engaged two F-80Cs and the leader Kapetan Stepan I. Naumenko claimed to shot down both Shooting Stars. Naumenko wrongly claimed them as 'F-84s', but there were no Thunderjets yet in Korea at that date, additionally none of those claims are confirmed within the US sources. Yet, the MiG-15 flown by Starshij Lejtenant Rumyantsev crashed during this battle - possibily after being shot down by 1st Lt Markette of 8th FBS.
|MiG-15 "Red 723", flown by Kapetan Stephan I. Naumenko early during the Korean War. The aircraft was left aluminium overal, with red rudder and the strip around the intake.|
The next day four MiG-15s of 29th GvIAP engaged eight F-80s over Kaisen and claimed to shot down two of them. Actually only Major Yuri Keleinikov scored when he shot-up the F-80C BuNo 49-478. The Shooting Star did return to its base but was immediately written off because it had no fewer then 250 shrapnel holes in it. And yet the next day six MiGs of the 29th GvIAP intercepted five B-29s and claimed to shot down three of them. US records confirm only one, most likely the Superfortress claimed by Stepan Naumenko. US records confirm only one, possibly the Superfortress claimed by Stepan Naumenko. The defense fire of 12.7 mm from the bombers caused the loss of a MiG: Starshij Lejtenant N. Serikov the only Soviet MiG lost due to the fire of a bomber gunner in the war. One more MiG piloted by P. A. Pavlenko became a shared kill of the F-80C Shooting Stars pilots Capt. Harry Hermann and 2nd Lt. Wayne Hegwood. But the Russian revenge came soon when two more F-80Cs soon fell under the shells fired by Soviet MiG-15s, the first one on 9th December and written in the score sheet of Kapetan I. F. Grechko although the Soviet and USAF version o not name the same location of the crash. The second one was downed on December 12, when a group of Shooting Stars strafed Sinuiju airfield. The 29th GvIAP was waiting for them, and the MiG-15 leader Major Perekrest shot down the F-80C of William Kimbro, who was killed in action. The location of the shotdown coincides in both the Soviet and USAF after action report, but the USAF claims the Shooting Star was lost to AAA defending Sinuiju.
By mid-December 1950 the Soviet pilots have possibility shot down 11 USAF aircraft for five MiGs lost. The Russian victories can be discrimined as follows: four certain and “official” (three B/RB-29s & one RB-45), one damaged/written off (the F-80C on 5 December), one possible write off (Naumenko’s B-29 kill on 6 December), one misattributed in good faith (the F-80C of Kimbro on 12 December), plus four more denied by US sources. It was high time for something to be changed.
MiG vs. Sabre; the Test
On 13th December seven natural metal F-86A Sabres with black and white stripes around the rear fuselage landed at Kimpo. The FEAF knew that the situation on the ground was grave and Kimpo will have to be evacuated soon, so it sent not even a full squadron worth of Sabres of the 336th FIS, 4th FIW into Kimpo crewed with old hands under the command of Lt. Col. Bruce Hinton to have a scrap or two with the MiG and gain some experience on which to base the training of the rest of the Sabre pilots. These Sabre pilots were immensely experienced and as Group Captain J. E. Johnson notes:
"In Korea, unlike previous wars, colonels in their twenties were no longer the vogue. Complicated weapons systems like the Sabre were best flown by experienced flyers, and experienced flyers were best led by the veterans of the Second War, many of whom added to their tally of German and Japanese victories. Grey-haired, well-decorated, and often the fathers of many children – one resolute colonel had eight - they were impressive not for their youth but their age. They were dedicated men; their motto – not the boldest but the oldest!"
Indeed Johnson’s observations are correct. The avarage age of Sabre pilots was 29½, while the avarage age of sucesfull Sabre pilots was even one year higher. Per avarage the Sabre pilots had 1100 flying hours when joining the 4th FIW.
On 15th December the Sabre formation performed a combat orientation flight. When they returned to Kimpo the weather closed in. While the snow was covering the runway outside the 336th FIS pilots talked to the resident 51st FIW that were also station there about the MiG. When the weather cleared and the runway was rolled flat in the morning of 17th December the four Sabre pilots headed by the CO 336th FIS were ready.
|17 December 1950: as the weather finally cleared, the Sabres of the 4th FIW were able to start into their first CAPs over Northern Korea and first engagements with MiG-15s: the war for air superiority over the Korean Peninsula was about to start. (USAF)|
Flying towards Sinuiju, which was at the time the heart of the “MiG Alley”, the Sabres were imitating a flight of Shooting Stars. They were using the Shooting Stars transit altitudes, speeds and call signs. Four MiG-15bis of the 50th IAD scrambled towards the formation. Thinking they were attacking Shooting Stars they intercepted them early over the Yalu with insufficient altitude. The Sabres flying at 25.000ft (8.000m) bounced the MiG formation flying at 18.000ft (7.000m). The MiGs performed a climbing turn towards the Sabres to counter the bounce but Lt. Col Hinton redlined his stopcocked Sabre and damaged two MiG-15bis fighters.
|A pair of A model Sabres of the 4th FIW with the black and white identification stripes taking off in the early days of the Korean war. (USAF, via authors)|
The damage to Major Yakob Yefromenko’s MiG being so extensive he decided to eject. Thus the first encounter between the natural enemies ended with a clear-cut USAF victory. Major Yakob Yefromenko holds the dubious honor as the first pilot who had successfully ejected in combat with a Soviet ejection seat.
But this Sabre victory resulted from the tactical surprise. The true show of strength was yet to be seen. Only five days later a four ship Sabre formation in which two distinguished World War Two aces Lt. Col. Glenn T. Eagleston and Col. John C. Meyer was badly bounced by the same number of MiG-15s belonging to the 177th IAP which was patrolling at 11.000m. Kapetan Nikolai Vorobyev riddled the F-86A piloted by Capt. Lawrence Bach with 23mm shells forcing Bach to eject into captivity. The whirling dogfight then descended to no more then 900m where the Sabres had immense advantage in maneuverability. Col. Meyer translated this advantage into fact when he shot down the MiG-15 piloted by Barsegyan who perished in the crash. Of course Lt. Col. Eaglestone was not far behind and shot down a MiG-15 piloted by Zub who was wounded in this combat. The dogfight lasted no less then 20 minutes which is an eternity in jet combat. Apart of Capt. Bach the Soviet pilots claimed three more Sabre kills. The price of two pilots lost was high to pay, but the Soviet pilots walked away from this fight knowing that they cannot adequately turn with the Sabre below 8.000m. From the Soviet records the first victory over the Sabre actually happened a day before Bach was shot down. On 21st December Kapetan Ljurkevich from the 29th GvIAP claimed one Sabre shot down.
There were two more battles between the Sabres and the MiGs in what remained of the 1950. On 24th of December six MiG-15s of 29th GvIAP found four Sabres over Sensen where Kapetan Naumenko claimed to have shot down one of them from a distance of 800m. Less than an hour later Naumenko was the element leader of a group of four MiG-15 when he again clashed with 336th FIS Sabres. In this combat he claimed to have shot down another Sabre who was at the time jockeying for a shooting position on D. I. Orlov. According to the Soviet records, the wreckage of one of the Sabres was found with its pilot killed in the cockpit, and the second one fell into the Yellow sea waters, but the USAF admits none.
|What this photo lacks in quality is compensated in its historical value and dramatic. Taken from Hintons Sabre the MiG-15 of Major Yefromenko starts emitting smoke. Yefromenko ejected moments later. The Yalu River can be seen as a silver strip in the background to the left. (USAF, via authors)|
With those two victories over the Sabres Kapetan Stepan Naumenko claimed his fourth and fifth personal victory. This would make him the first jet-versus-jet ace in history, but so far from his five claims only one B-29 can be safely attributed as his victory.
Six days later a new battle raged and the MiG-15 pilot S. M. Lyubimov claimed another Sabre kill, but was in turn himself bounced by an Sabre piloted by an exchange USN pilot, Lt. Cdr. Paul E. Pugh, who severely damaged his plane. While Pugh claimed a MiG kill Lyubimov landed safe and sound at Antung.
|The last moments of one of a total of eight (Soviet) MiG-15s claimed as shot down by USAF fighters in December 1950. Contrary to many other cases, this MiG was indeed shot down. (USAF)|
Those two weeks of combat established some characteristics of the aerial combat which last for the remaining of the war, characteristics dictated by the advantages and disadvantages of both types of aircraft. The MiG-15bis had a higher ceiling with 15.000m than the F-86 with 12.000m. The MiG-15 pilots learned to initiate combat with altitude advantage, diving and performing their attack runs from the sun. Additionally, the MiG-15bis had an outstanding climbing capacity enabling them to retreat to a safe altitude after performing the initial bounce This ability allowed the MiG-15 tacticians to develop maneuvers which lured the Sabres into a climb, bleeding airspeed in the attempt to catch the MiG while becoming an easy target for a second MiG element. Also the MiG-15bis could easily out-turn the F-86 above 10.000 m and turned as well as the Sabre in the region between 8.000-10.000m.
At medium or lower altitudes below 8.000m the F-86 Sabre was more agile than the MiG, and it could out-turn the Soviet-built fighter. Such capability increased proportionally with the decrease of the altitude. Of course this inferior turning cycle was not to such an extent so it could prevent a well-piloted MiG-15bis still could give a good fight against the Sabre even at such altitudes.
The design of the vertical stabilizers gave to F-86 Sabre a better axial stability, which apart from making it a much more stable fire platform it also enabled a better diving capacity. As the Sabre could maintain Mach 0.97 in a steep dive and still be under control a MiG doing so would enter in an uncontrolled spin and rip its wings off. At least that was told to the combat pilots. The reality was a bit different as test pilot Stepan Mikoyan explains:
"The MiG-15 fighter had sweptback wings but the sweep was only thirty-five degrees and the wings were relatively thick, therefore its speed limit was M 0.92 (for an aircraft with a non-sweptback wing M 0.8 was the maximum). In the Korean War the pilots who were trying to escape or were chasing him in a dive at full-throttle sometimes exceeded the never-exceed speed. Whenever that happened they were supposed to throttle down and deploy the speed brakes, but in combat nobody really did that. So we, the test pilots of the fighter section, were instructed to test the MiG-15 in steep dives to assess the risk of that maneuver and to devise some practical recommendations for combat pilots. I was among those engaged in those tests. Thanks to the MiG-15’s sweptback wings, its longitudinal control was not affected by high speed diving, whereas the lateral control effectiveness was decreased and the aircraft would roll to the left due to the engine rotation moment. It took us several flights to realize it, but once we did, we developed a certain pattern of diving in which a steep dive was entered with the aircraft already banking to the right. It turned out that even in a vertical dive at full power the MiG-15 was unable to reach M 1.0-with its aerodynamic layout the air drag was simply far too great. Therefore we could report that there was no longer the danger of exceeding the limit speed."
In fact Central Fighter Establishment documents pertaining to the Sabre versus the MiG comparison indicated that the Sabre could in fact dive faster but was less stable in this regime. This was especially true for the A model of the Sabre. Furthermore Indian fighter pilot Flt. Lt. Peter Michael Brown who flew the Sabres at Nellis AFB noted that the handling of the Sabre above M 0.95 was inferior to the Hawker Hunter, the French Mystere and the Folland Gnat. In so what the diving performance is concerned the fact was that while the Sabre could attain a higher top speed, the control authority was far inferior in the near supersonic regimes.
The MiG-15 had a much more powerful weaponry; its single Nuddelmann-Richter and two Nuddelmann-Semenov cannons of 37 and 23 mm could brake a Sabre, or any other type of U.N. aircraft, into pieces with a few rounds. Experience showed one or two direct hits of a 37 mm shell or 10-15 hits of 23 mm shells usually sealed the fate of the Sabre in most cases. On the opposite side of the fence, the Sabre pilots sometimes needed the full load of the Sabre's six Browning machineguns of 12.7mm (0.50 inch) to shot down a single MiG-15bis like Hinton experienced when he shot down Yefromenko on December 17.
As no rose is without a thorn the F-86 Sabre had a much better gunsight, coupled with a small ranging radar mounted on the top of the intake lip which calculated the range to target. This contraption enabled U.S. pilots a greater degree of accuracy for less effort when firing at a MiG. But the combination was not welcomed with the pilots. Most still preferred to use the sight with manual aiming, while some Sabres were still equipped with the older Mk.18 sight without automatic ranging. The experience gained with these early A1-CM ranging gunsight enabled the development of the A-4 gunsight which harvested much praise including Pakistani Air Force pilots who used them in combat with the Indian Air Force. In addition to the better but complex gunsight the trajectory of the 0.5 inch (12.7mm) bullets was almost a straight line, while the trajectory of the 37 and 23 mm shells curved earthwards after a few hundred meters because the weight of the rounds. That was why only the best Soviet shooters could score hits at long range while the vas majority preferred to close to 200m of their targets.
One area that the Sabre excelled was the cockpit visibility, where the Sabre pilots enjoyed almost limitless visibility trough the teardrop shaped canopy. The MiG-15 pilots were limited by the canopy framing and the gunsight, but more importantly their vision was hampered by the lower sitting position. In fact the Sabre was nicknamed the humpback by the Soviet pilots, since the pilot sat only hip deep in the fuselage.
The sight with the radio-range finder of the Sabre gave birth to the first Soviet Radar Warning Receiver. Test engineer Vadim Matskevich conceived a contraption that reacted to the Sabre’s ranging radar. Every time such a radar would be looking at the MiG the pilot would hear a low-pitch ‘howling’ in the earphones. As the distance from the emitter grew the noise became high in pitch and low in volume. Even so it remained perfectly distinct within the distance of seven to eight kilometers. Probably the most important reason for the introduction of this improvement on the Korean MiGs was the fact it was very simple to install partly utilizing the already built-in, but never really used equipment for rocket-assisted take-offs.
Apart from the tactical aspects of the Sabre versus MiG-15 combat many other indications were already present in the initial skirmishes of what was yet to come.
The Soviets inflated their score with a high percentage of over claiming. The actual kills differed from claims by as much as 50-65%. In many cases the over claims were made in good faith, but it must be said that the Soviet contingent command encouraged good results, which could be reported back to the SSSR. Of course the U.N. was also prone to over claming, albeit in this early stages of the struggle against the MiGs, the overclaim ratio of the Sabre and F-80 pilots was a reasonable 20%, but this one raised to 40-60%, especially in the post 1952 period where a confirmed kill was awarded even with inconclusive evidence that cried out for a damaged or a probable classification.
During the same time it had become standard practice if a Sabre that was shot up in combat with the MiGs successfully disengaged and then crashed outside the MiG Alley or in the vicinity of the home base, these losses would be considered as accidents and not classified as losses to enemy fighters as they should had been.
Another factor was also present in all of the jet combats in Korea. Namely both sides liked to inflate the amount of enemy aircraft engaged in every combat. As we will see that the Soviet liked to increase the size of the enemy formations in a 100 %, and the U.N. inflated enemy formation sometimes by a percentage of 200%.
Despite the Soviet MiG-15 pilots could not adequately face the Sabres yet, they kept successfully engaging other types of U.N. jets: on December 27 over Teiju the 177th IAP pilot intercepted F-80s of 25th FIS, and most likely Kapetan Fomin hit the Shooting Star of Harrison Jacobs who ejected but perished. (Kapetan Tishenko claimed another F-80 kill, and the pilots Andryushin and Kormilkin a shared one). The last victory of MiG-15 that year happened on December 29, when probably D. I. Orlov shot down the F-80C of James Clayberg.
Temporal Vithdrawal of the Sabres
While not achieving a positive balance with the Sabres the MiG-15 units defeated the FEAF over the Yalu in December 1950 in the area where it counted. With the air superiority gained by the MiGs in November and the first half of December the great Chinese offensive could reach Seoul outskirts on 2nd January 1951, and on the same day the 4th FIW Sabres were evacuated out of Kimpo airbase to Japan. Seoul fell two days later. The Sabre effort was just too little far too late and these events left them out of the game for a while, due to the short range of the F-86A, Kimpo was the only airfield where the Sabres could operate and reach the "MiG Alley". So, the only opposition found by the MiGs in the air during January - first half of March 1951 were the inferior F-80s and F-84s.
No missions were flown into the "MiG Alley" for most of January. On 21st January a mission designed to test the waters with one RF-80A escorted by four F-80Cs was flown into the area. They were met and bounced by six MiG-15bis of the 29th GvIAP, 50th IAD. Kapetan I. F. Grechko shot down the valuable reconnaissance platform piloted by 1st Lt. JB Smith of the 8th TRS, although this loss could probably ne attributed to flak, while the rest of the formation engaged the escorting Shooting Stars of 49th FBW. The resulting combat was swift and Major I. F. Bogatyrev shot down the Shooting Star of Robert Dalmon. The remaining three F-80Cs returned home and reported that they were jumped by no less then a dozen of MiGs. Robert Dalmon remains Missing in Action till this day while JB Smith loss was credited to North Korean flak.
During the same day the newly arrived F-84Es met their Soviet opponents for the first time. A raid of eight Thunderjets against a bridge over the Chongchan river met the same amount of MiG-15s of the 177th IAP later Major Mikhailov shot down the F-84E BuNo 49-3240. Other two Soviet pilots and the American F-84E pilot Lt. Col. William Bertram (CO of 523rd FBS) claimed one kill each, but it seems that there were no additional losses of any side that day.
In the light of the Chinese offensive slowing down due to the FEAF ground support an maximum effort was mounted against the North Korean airfields of Sinuiju and Pyongyang to deny their use to the Chinese and Soviet units. These strikes were mounted the day after the unsuccessful 21st January. Prior to the arrival of the B-29 formations no less but forty jets were sent against each of the targets to suppress the local defenses. While the Pyongyang bound forty F-80C of the 49th FBW encountered no difficulties, 33 F-84Es of the 27th FEW were intercepted by twenty MiGs of the 29th GvIAP over Sinuiju which was reinforced a few minutes later by 13 MiGs of 177th IAP and eight more of the Chinese 7th Regiment. The Soviet pilots claimed five victories while the Thunderjets claimed four. Actually the only confirmed victory of the day was the one obtained by William Slaughter, who shot down the MiG of Kapetan G. M. Grebenkin who lost his life in that combat. In that same combat 1st Lt. Jacob Kratt Jr. was credited with two MiG kills, and probably his victims were Chinese, because Chinese sources mention 2 MiG losses in that period, even when a specific date was not given. Four days later Kratt would claim to have shot down a Chinese Yak-9P.
With the destruction of the DPRKAF airbases and nothing to be done with the Yalu ice the FEAF was convinced by the three losses suffered on 21st January not to send any more formations into the MiG Alley for the little or no gain they achieve. Thus February was a quiet month without any air combats involving the Soviet units.
This respite in combat was enough to enable the rotation of combat formations. The 50th IAD including the veterans of the Shanghai and Korea-the 29th GvIAP was sent back to the Soviet Union. It’s MiG-15bis remained at An-tung since they were assigned to the 151st Division. In turn the 151st handed its earlier model MiG-15s to their Chinese pupils just before their move to An-tung. The first regiment of the 151st Division: the 28th GvIAP was ready for operations on 8th February while the 72nd GvIAP was ready on March 2 1951. This rotation proved rather unsuccessful. For better understanding of the rather complicated Order of Battle of the Soviet units the following schematics was prepared for the period of the Soviet deployment in China in 1949 and the first three months of the Korean War.
The U.N. forces have decided that they will not allow for another Pusan perimeter to develop and they had stabilized the ground war along the 37th parallel. During February 1951 the Chinese offensive after the second fall of Seul completely lost its momentum. With the advance south the ground forces found themselves under the sky, which was far to south for the Soviet units to be allowed to enter. They found themselves under the sky owned by the FEAF. The Chinese ground troops showered with bombs, rockets and gunfire, as were the Norht Korean forces a few months earlier they were forced to halt the offensive. If the FEAF wanted to keep the Chinese volunteers at bay, new attacks against supply lines were to be initiated immediately, and thus the railroad and road bridges again became main targets. This interdiction program was described in a single idea of destroying rail and road communications to an extent that a 30 mile long undamaged stretch of road or rail line was not allowed to exist.
On 23rd February Kapetan Gordeev ejected in combat with F-80s, but surpassingly no victories were claimed by the USAF fighter/bomber units in theatre.
On the first day of March 1951 eighteen B-29s of 98th Bomber Wing were sent to strike the bridge near Chongju, but due to strong winter headwind they were devoid of fighter cover over the target. Instead they did rendezvous with a formation of MiG-15bis belonging to the 28th GvIAP, which transformed ten of the bombers into flying sieves. Three of these crashed and were destroyed while trying to perform an emergency landing at Taegu. March was another quiet month with not many air combats. On 12th March 1951 two pilots of 28th GvIAP -St/Lt’s Sokolov and Bushmelev collided while engaging the F-80C of 2nd Lt. Charles Blomberg (36th FBS). The collision was observed by the other F-80 pilots. 17th March saw an otherwise inconclusive air combat in which a MiG-15 pilot of 72nd GvIAP, Vasili M. Dubrovin, collided in mid-air with an F-80C of 36th FBS piloted by Howard J. Landry. Both pilots died in the crash. With two such accidents in a short period the GLAVKOM VVS or the Soviet Air Force HQ set a plan in motion to replace the two Soviet units with better prepared fighting formations.
Sabres Return and Soviets Rotate
The last weeks of March saw the return of the Sabres of the 4th FIW. Two new airbases; Suwon and Taegu were prepared to receive them. 334th FIS occupied Suwon and its twin unit the 336th FIS found a new home at Taegu. While the airbases were poorly prepared and operations from them were downright dangerous this cannot be said for the pilots of the premier Fighter Intercept Wing. During the winter spent in Japan the pilots who were blooded in December 1951 taught a specialized syllabus based on the experience gained fighting the MiG. And this quickly brought results. In the following days two MiGs were shot down by the F-86 Sabre pilots all without a loss to themselves. One of these victories was initially only a “probable” kill claimed by Richard S. Becker of the 334th FIS, today we know his victim was a pilot of 72nd GIAP named Savinov. The second one was scored by an exchange Canadian pilot, Flight Lieutenant Joseph Auguste Omer Levesque on the last day of March. In the light of these losses the Soviet High Command became worried for the poor results of the 28th and 72nd GvIAP.
The immediate arrival of better-trained units was deemed necessary to prevent the loss of the winter air superiority again to the Sabre. During March a new Air Division, the 324th came from the SSSR to the rear bases in Manchuria and got ready for combat sorties as all the previous units prepared to return to the Soviet Union. The 324th IAD meant business. On the helm of the unit were two best leaders and most successful fighter pilots that the Soviet Union had to offer. The commander of the 324th IAD was the man who stood proudly on the first place in the list of Allied fighter aces: the three-times Hero of the Soviet Union, Ivan N. Kozhedub, with 62 confirmed victories against the Luftwaffe.
|Kapetan Stepan Naumenko. The first man to claim five jet victories, of which by the present date only one was confirmed. (Source unknown, via authors)|
Always belonging to the elite regiments flying the Lavockin series on Svobodnaya Okhota10 types of operations Kozedub knew how to run an effective unit. The unsurpassed devotion of his subordinates was also reinforced by the fact that Kozedub already had an USAF and a jet victory to his credit. Namely Kozedub shot down a Luftwaffe Me 262 over the Oder in February 1945 and another two Mustangs that had mistaken his La-7 for a Fw-190A. Both of the victories over the P-51 are recorded in the USAF archives. Thus Kozedub actually had the score of 64 victories though he can often be remembered as ranting that he had for sure shot down over one hundred Luftwaffe fighters. His deputy was of the same make. 41 kill ace Vitalij I. Popkov is most remembered by the exemplatory leadership and his lighting reactions in air combat. Recent reseach also credits him for downing the sixth ranking ace of the Luftwaffe Hauptmann Wilhem Batz. Before he left for Korea he commanded the 739 IAP. Thus the commander and the deputy commander of the 324th IAD had a combined score sheet of 105 victories.
The Division had two regiments. Podpolkovnik Sergei F. Vishnyakov commanded 176th GvIAP while Polkovnik Yevgenij G. Pepelyaev commanded 196th IAP. The latter would prove to be one of the best pilots who ever streaked across the Korean skies in a jet fighter.
The Bomber-Spring over Yalu
The VVS greenhorns performed their first combat sorties on first day of April. Two days later they found themselves against the F-86A Sabres of the 334th FIS. But those who were expecting a fight of the experts were to be disappointed since in this particular combat the American pilots gained the upper hand. Captain James J. Jabara and Benjamin H. Emmert shot down one MiG each, and R. McLain and W. Yancey shared a third MiG kill all of them belonging to the 196th IAP. However it was not a one-sided affair since Starshij Lejtenant Fiodor A. Shebanov latched and destroyed the F-86A of Major Ronald Shirlaw who belly landed and was captured. Certainly three losses for one victory was a poor beginning for both of the new units. Things even worsened on the 4th April when another MiG fell to the F-86A Sabre pilot Edward Flectcher of 336th FIS and this time there was no US losses. But the new brooms soon started mopping.
We have mentioned that the Soviet pilots were flying with using North Korean communications. Indeed this had been the case until now. Within the 324th IAD things would prove to be different. Both regiment commanders Vishnyakov and Pepelyaev simply grounded their regiments refusing to fly and fight until such very restrictive bans were lifted. Pepelyaev even told General Lejtenant Ivan Belov that if he did not like the decision made by Vishnyakov and him he was welcome to go and fight by himself.
Belov as commander of the 64th IAF of course wanted to court-martial Pepelyaev but was astonished when Division Commander Ivan Kozhedub wisely supported Pepelyaev and Vishnyakov in their decision. Kozedub explained to Belov that he has already sent a personal letter to Stalin outlining how stupid the ban really was. Belov knew that Kozhedub was a nation wide hero and his popularity with Stalin was immense. He gave up and authorized the pilots to speak Russian during combat.
On 6th April 1951 the MiG-15bis pilots of 196th IAP could finally show their true color and capacity when Kapetan Boris S. Abakumov riddled the fuel tanks of the F-86A of Maj. Crown with 23 mm shells. Crown crash-landed his Sabre and was captured. His Sabre was in a relatively good shape and an attempt was made to transport the fighter to Manchuria by truck but it was later completely destroyed by other fighter-bombers before the transport crossed the Yalu. This account could also be connected with William Crone, a F-86 pilot rammed and killed by the MiG-15 of Kapetan Serafim Subbotin on 18th June 1951 and whose identity card was recovered.
Despite this the incident showed that the 324th IAD is a combat unit capable to combat the Sabres of the 4th FIW. And it was not to end there since their greatest hour was still to come.
|Above and bellow two consecutive gun-camera frames taken by Kapetan Ivan Suckhov on 12th April 1951 can be seen. Almost fifty Thunderjets were not able to prevent Soviet jet pilots from getting through to the bombers. (V-VS) |
With the end of March the ice that covered the Yalu started breaking up. The attacks on international bridges were resumed being most intensive in the area of Sinuiju and Uiju.
On 7th of April 1951 an unknown number of B-29s escorted by 48 F-84Es of the 27th FEW visited the Yalu bridges. A force of about thirty MiG-15s of the 176th GvIAP soon confronted Superfortress crews. Despite the efforts of the escorting Thunderjet pilots the MiG-15bis of Kapetan Ivan V. Suchkov passed through the fighter screen and blasted one B-29 out of the sky but lost one MiG of the formation to the F-84 escorts.
Two days later Sabre pilot 1st Lt Arthur L O’Connor of the 336th FIS shot downs the MiG of Starshij Lejtenant Fedor Slabkin of the 176th GvIAP who bailed out, but in return the 176th GvIAP intercepted several B-26Bs of 452nd BW, and badly shot-up no. 44-34447 and 44-34547. One of these two was the first kill credited to the MiG-15 Ace Kapetan Grigorii Ges.
Just five days later the 324th IAD would go down in history. On April 12, 1951 a composed force of forty-eight B-29 of the 19th and 307th Bomber Wing with an escort of no less then thirty-four F-84 of the 27th FEW and another eighteen F-86As of the 334th FIS was tasked with the destruction of the same targets on the Yalu in the vicinity of Sinuiju. Lt. Gen Stratemeyer thought that the F-84s were no match for the MiG-15s and preferred the Sabre for the task but he was under pressure of the temperamental SAC commander, General Curtiss LeMay, who wanted to see the Thunderjets of the 27th FEW acting as escorts. This is an unusual episode since FEAF was distinct from SAC and under the direct control of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. SAC continued to control all the bomber forces in the ZI (Zone of Interior - i.e., the United States).
Stratemeyer gave in and crossed his fingers in hope that the 334th FIS will be enough to keep the MiGs away from the bombers. Nothing remotely similar would happen in what turned out to be one of the worst USAF operations up to that date.
In the morning of 12th April 1951 the pilots arrived on the air base while the technicians were still performing the last checks and minor maintenance on their MiGs. At 9:37 in the morning the Soviet radar operators gave the alert in Antung that a massive and slow air raid was coming in towards the Sinuiju railroad bridge. Immediately Kozedub went off to command the battle from the KP. Fearing that this formation was made of Sabres mimicking to be bombers he sent first only six MiGs to reconnoiter the situation. The rest of the pilots were ordered to cockpit alert. When the six pilots saw that this was really a bomber formation in short order no less then another thirty-eight MiG-15s of the 176th and 196th Regiments scrambled towards the bombers and their escorts (and not 75 MiGs as asserted USAF at that time). Despite the large formation the Soviet were still outnumbered three-to-two by the escorting fighters and almost tree-to-one by the whole formation. In fact not a single flyable MiG-15 could be found at Antung. But the analysis of the bombers tactics in the previous months allowed Pepelyaev and Vishnyakov to realize that when the Thunderjets and Sabres were in the role of escorts for the slow bombers they were forced to fly at only 700 km/h and at 7.000m. At such a low energy state the Sabres let alone the Thunderjets would be unable to catch or out-maneuver a MiG-15 diving at 900 km/h. In that light both commanders instructed two-thirds of his men to climb to 10.000m and then to dive towards the bombers ignoring the escorts while the remaining third faced the Sabres and Thunderjets.
With dry throats upon seeing the huge enemy formation 3.000m below, one by one the Soviet pilots began their full throttle dives. In the incredible battle that followed the MiG-15bis pilots Boris A. Obratsov and Seraphim P. Subbotin from the 176th GvIAP and Fiodor A. Shebanov and A. M. Kochegarov from the 196th IAP shot down one B-29 each while six more bombers were so severely damaged that were written off after landing. The escorting F-86A Sabre pilots James Jabara, Bruce Hinton, John Meyer and Howard Lane claimed one MiG kill each while and the B-29's gunners claimed seven more. The truth is that despite many MiGs were damaged only one was lost to a Sabre. Most probably the successful pilot was Capt. Jabara. The Soviets over claimed a lot too that day. The pilots claimed a dozen B-29s, two "F-80s" which were actually misidentified F-84s and one F-86, but taking into account the admitted losses of both sides there is no doubt that this air battle, the biggest one of the war until that time, was a tremendous Soviet victory with no less then ten bomber victories against only one fighter lost. Stratemeyer gave a halt to the B-29 daylight sorties and reported to LeMay that he would not send the bombers again into the "MiG Alley" until new facilities and airbases would be built to allow the deployment of more escort fighters. But actually the problem didn’t lay in numbers but in tactics used.
|Two 196th IAP tragic aces. Above: Kapetan Boris Abakumov, which claimed six victories in Korea, but was shot down and injured. Abakumov had written one of the first books about the Soviet units in the Korean skies, titled "The Unknown War".Bellow Starshij Lejtenant Fiodor Shebanov was credited with five Sabres and one B-29, but was in turn shot down and killed probably by Claude Mitson on 26th October 1951. (V-VS, via authors)|
After the downfall of the "the bombers will get through" mentality in the early days of World War Two the escort tactics had to be rewritten again by the RAF when it leaned over into France in the summer of 1942. The escorting fighters were given several separate tasks. Four types of escort tasks were directly concerned with the bomber protection and this meant that these formations had to adhere to bomber speeds, routes and timing. These were the close escort which surrounded the bombers; the escort cover that provided cover for close escort fighters; the high cover; to prevent the enemy fighters positioning themselves above the two lower fighter formations; and lastly the top cover which, although tied with the bombers’ route had a roving commission to sweep the skies clear of enemy fighters threatening the immediate are of bomber attack. But the bomber support didn’t end there. There were three more types of escorts which were independently routed namely: target support, withdrawal support and fighter diversion. Supporting fighter sweeps were employed when the penetration of the raid was sufficiently deep to encourage the enemy to send reinforcement fighters from bases not in the threatened are of operations. The USAF adopted this routine with an emphasis on the top cover fighters and incorporated a shuttle service. With the advent of jets these tactics were shattered. The early jet engines were far from fuel-efficient and the targets were far from the home bases. Formatting took a long time and during this time fuel was wasted. The old assembly procedures were not successful just because of endurance. The failurie to protect the bombers on 12th April was due to the fact the Vishnyakov and Pepelyaev skillfully led their formations minimizing the advantages of the Sabres, but also due to the fact that the jet escort were tied to the bombers to a great extent and thus were unable to counter the MiGs who came down on the formation with 200km/h speed advantage. This goes only to the afore mentioned fact that the West enjoyed an advantage over the SSSR in the experience gained by the Luftwaffe jet pilots. The formations flown in Korean differed in nothing to the formations flown by Generalleutnant Galland:
"In principle, the tactics of an Me 262 formation irrespective of what they were opposing were determined by the flying qualities of the aircraft. First there is the high speed, then there is the small banking performance and third there is the very limited ability to compare the acceleration with conventionally engined aircraft. By acceleration I mean the capability of going from limited speeds to high speeds and vice versa. The Me 262 needs plenty of elbow room in both cases. For formation flying this means that flying in battle formation is a little more difficult then it is for conventional aircraft, in other words, by throttle lever – but instead position must be kept by means of sideward movements, ie. by shortening the flight path or by swinging out and increasing the distance cowered. In any case it is wrong to give up the one element of superiority the jet has namely speed as again picking up speed takes longer."
These words were spoken to an USAF intelligence officer during the end of May 1945. Six years later USAF jet pilot and their commanders again learnt the importance of keeping up speed. The price of this lesson was then paid by the Bomber Command.
With the Sinuiju bridges still standing the FEAF Bomber command campaign goal failed. Now they were again targeted against the DPRKAF air bases, which were well south of the MiG Alley. With the bombers gone the air battles during the rest of the month were inconclusive leaving FEAF worried about the evident improvement in the quality of their opponents and their tactical coordination and cooperation in combat. Despite the inconclusive engagements of April 16 and 18 the MiGs could not score kills, the Americans were taught another tactical lesson during these two dogfights.
The basic idea was that a Sabre formation is sandwiched between two attacking MiG pairs. One climbing and one diving. On 22nd April the Sabre pilots had found the answer to the "sandwich" in the form of the long forgotten RAF six ship staggered flight. On that day a dozen F-86As of the 334th FIS were intercepted by 36 MiGs of 196th IAP and began a raging battle in which soon a dozen more Sabres joined their buddies. During the battle the Sabre pilots countered the Soviet "sandwich" tactic with flight of six F-86s instead the usual ones of four; four of them would attack the climbing MiGs and the remaining two the diving ones. Such counter-tactic enabled the Sabre pilots to claim four MiG kills: one each by the World War Two Ace Glenn Eaglestone, James Jabara, William Yancey and Ralph Gibson. However, only one MiG was actually lost, and again the most likely scorer was Capt. Jabara. That same gameplay allowed F-86 pilot Lieutenant Colonel William J. Hovde to shot down Kapetan Murashev (176th GvIAP) two days later
The First "Clash of the Titans"
The next important fighter battle happened on 20th May 1951 when 28 F-86 Sabres of the 335th FIS engaged 30 MiG-15s of the 196th IAP over the "MiG Alley". With no less but 58 fighters in a single battle this was the largest fighter battle to that date. Capt. James J. Jabara was a member of the 334th FIS, but when the unit was rotated out he was allowed to stay with the 335th FIS to become the USAF first jet ace as he was just one victory short. Despite he that he wasn’t able to drop one of his wing tanks and was therefore flying with a dangerous asymmetric load and the frantic maneuvering of the Soviet pilot, Kapetan Nazarkin, Jabara shot it down forcing Nazarkin to bail out. That was his 5th claim and instantly he became the first jet-vs-jet Ace in History. Jabara attacked another MiG after that and claimed to shot it down too but was then jumped by two MiG-15s, one of them piloted by a future ace Starshij Lejtenant V. N. Alfeyev, who shot-up his Sabre with 23mm shells.
Jabara was saved by the intervention of other F-86 piloted by Eugene Holley, who forced Alfeyev to disengage, even when Holley was slightly damaged by Alfeyev’s wingman Starshij Lejtenant Fiodor Shebanov. Jabara was able to land safe and sound but his F-86 BuNo 49-1318 was so riddled by bullets that it was considered as beyond repair and dully written off. Despite that, Jabara was very happy: he was credited as the First Jet-vs-jet Ace of History and he survived to tell his story. He was immediately sent back to the United States. But according to the Soviet files his score at the time was four at best, so he actually become ace only in his second combat tour in 1953.
During that particular battle two American pilots were credited with three MiG kills since Jabara claimed two and Milton E. Nelson claimed the third one but actually only Nazarkin's MiG was lost; and four Russian pilots claimed to shot down one Sabre each (Maj. Kirizov, Sr.Lts. Alfeyev and Shebanov, and Col. Yevgeni Pepelyayev) when actually Alfeyev's claim become an write off, Shebanov's was only damaged, and the Sabre kill of Polkovnik Yevgenij G. Pepelyaev was confirmed because the unnamed American pilot was captured by Chinese ground forces. That would be first one out of the 19 this great pilot would be credited with.
|The two antagonists of the dogfight from 20 May 1951: Jabara above, Alfeyev bellow. The dogfight just proved how closely matched were the Soviet and USAF aviators in Korea. (above USAF museum, bellow (V-VS; both via author) |
What remained unknown to either side was the fact that something more important happened on that day. Both, V. N. Alfeyev and James Jabara, are considered aces with 7 and 15 victories, respectively: consequently this was the first "Clash of the Titans", the first struggle between aces of the Korean War. Both pilots returned home with their aircraft as write-offs. There is quite some confusion on which aircraft Jabara actually flew on this mission. But the only thing that can be said is that the Sabre in front Jabara was posing "just after the mission" was not the Sabre he flew. That photograph was taken the next day. Eventually, while this clash was probably the epitome of how the Soviet MiG-15bis and USAF Sabre pilots were evenly matched in skill in equipment and in tactics, the bomber spring in the MiG Alley as a whole was won by the 324th IAD.
The final statistics for the period from 1st November 1950 until 20th May 1951 were as follows: the actual Soviet MiG air combat losses were 26 (25 due to fighters, one by a B-29) plus two or three PLAAF MiGs listed as "probable". Against such losses, the Russian MiG-15 pilots probably shot down 35 UN aircraft, as follows: 16 confirmed by US sources (nine B-29s, four F-80Cs, one F-84E, one F-86A, one RB-45), seven which the Americans admit could have been downed by MiGs (two F-80Cs, two F-51Ds, two B-29s and one F-86A) and 12 more (eight B-29s, three F-80Cs and two F-86s) denied by the US sources.
- 1) VVS stands for Voyenno-Vozdushnye Sily = the Soviet Air Force
- 2) NKVD are security forces based the communist ideology but politically controlled
- 3) Great Patriotic War is the Russian acronym for World War 2
- 4) This rule translated is altitude-speed-maneuver-fire
- 5) PVO stands for Protiv-Vozdushnaya oborna = The Soviet Air Defense Forces
- 6) Some sources say this was due to Chinese AAA, but others state that Starshij Lejtenant Kursonov flying a La-11 shot down the Tu-2 on 9 August 1950, after the aircraft strayed into a restricted area and was mistaken for a B-25
- 7) Now known as Shenyang
- 8) Group Captain J. E. Johnson refers to 'us' as the RAF
- 9) Soviet time. Add one hour for American time.
- 10) Literally translated as free hunt missions similar to RAF independent fighter sweeps with the aim of seeking and destroying the enemy.
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